The movie “Temple Grandin” tells the story of a young woman growing up with autism, who has the potential to change the way people see mental disabilities. I chose to watch the movie “Temple Grandin” because the protagonist in this story has autism, and the way she chooses to cope with and define her disability is a great example of an incredibly important explanatory model. Temple Grandin was an autistic child growing up throughout the 1950s and 1960s, a time when many doctors did not know how to correctly diagnose or handle autistic patients. Generally, the most common response to a parent coming in with an autistic child was a recommendation to institutionalize their children. This was because doctors could not think of another “treatment” besides this option. When Temple’s mother brought her in to see a doctor at age four because Temple had not yet spoken, this was exactly what she was told. The doctor diagnosed Temple with infantile schizophrenia and institutionalization was the only advice he gave. Her mother would not do this to Temple so she worked with Temple day in and day out in order to help her to learn to speak. When she accomplished this, Temple’s mother did not stop there and immediately put her in to school. People with autism, have significant trouble with social cues, the meaning of facial expressions, sensory overload, and over-stimulation, such as too much talking or too many people around her at once. While growing up, Temple was aware that she was different than others, but knew that she was no less. She realized that she only thought in pictures, rather than the ordinary person who would generally think in words. To push her into different social environments, Temple’s mom sent her to work on her aunt’s farm for the summers and this is where Temple fell in love with the cattle-ranching world. Temple soon found out that she saw the world in a similar way as the cattle. Because of her autism, she was able to look at the cattle-ranching world through the animals’ eyes rather than the eyes of the farmers. With this different approach, Temple was able to create a humane system which calmed the cattle during the process of being cleaned and brought to the slaughterhouse. Temple went on to get her Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science, along with her Masters and her Doctorate. She is most known for her incredibly influential work in the fairer treatment of cattle and through her writings on both this topic, and autism. She is now a professor at Colorado State University but also lectures worldwide about animal handling and autism.
One area of medical illness that we focused on throughout this semester was that of mental health. This portion of the class really stood out to me and I became very interested in the idea of explanatory models. According to Arthur Kleinman, “explanatory models are the notions that patients, families, and practitioners have about a specific illness episode” (Kleinman, 1988). As discussed during the second week of class, the explanatory model of mental health, in western medicine, is represented as biological and chemical imbalances in one’s brain that can be fixed through drugs, injections, etc. (Gabriel). This definition has changed over time, just as explanatory models have changed. With this, each culture may have their own explanatory model for mental illness, but ours tends to focus on treatment through medication. Temple Grandin was an important influence on the idea of mental health because she had her own explanatory model of autism, and it helped to change the way the world would see and understand this disability. Temple’s mother raised her in a way where she knew that she was different, but she was aware of the benefits, along with the difficulties, that her disability gave her. She took her disability and used it in the most effective ways possible. Her own explanatory model helped Temple to define her differences in the way that she thinks through pictures, the situations that she knows are not the most comfortable for her, and also helped her to figure out ways in which to feel comforted in these difficult situations. Her mother also played a part in creating her own explanatory model for autism through bringing out all of these new discoveries in Temple. Through the endless work that her mother did, working with her day in and day out, sending her to school to work with amazing professors, and always supporting her, Temple was able to shamelessly become her true self.
I think that this film would be influential to add to this course in the future because it brings up a different aspect of mental health. Autism was not a huge part of the mental illness section within this course. The focus was more on illnesses such as schizophrenia, rather than disabilities such as autism. Although these mental illnesses come about in different ways, I still think that they can be dealt with and understand in similar aspects. The idea of having one’s own explanatory model for any kind of illness includes both those of schizophrenia and disabilities like autism.
Kleinman, Arthur, M.D. The Illness Narratives: Suffering, Healing, and the Human Condition. 1988.
Gabriel, Cynthia, Ph.D. “’Explanatory Models’ and Interpretive Theory: Learning about Health through Ethnography” Lecture, Online.
Temple Grandin, directed by Mick Jackson. Written by Christopher Monger and Merritt Johnson. Starring Claire Danes, Julia Ormond, David Strathairn, Catherine O’Hara. Distributed by HBO Films (2010). Rated PG (for adult content).
Recently released on DVD, HBO Film’s Temple Grandin is the true story of animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, a brilliant scientist and engineer who single-handedly reformed the meatpacking industry by improving both the way cattle are treated and the means by which the animals are led to slaughter. What makes Grandin, currently a professor at Colorado State University, of particular interest as the subject of a docudrama is not only the way she helped the beef and cattle industry become more efficient and profitable, but also the fact that she is autistic.
The television film, written by Christopher Monger and Merritt Johnson, is based on several books by Grandin and details her life from the time that she was diagnosed as autistic—when she was a toddler—to her postdoctoral years in the early 1980s. What makes Grandin even more remarkable is her rivetingly powerful self-awareness of her disability; how she compensates for it, by “thinking in pictures”; and how she uses her unique situation and skills to get “into” the minds of the animals she studies.
Claire Danes, who plays Grandin, deserves particular kudos for her performance (she justly won an Emmy for the role), which is rich and believable. Grandin is profoundly independent, driven, and self-interested; once she sets her mind to a goal, she never gives up and never backs down—and she always does what is right for herself and the animals she loves. With Danes’ portrayal, viewers love and root for Grandin from beginning to end. Though it may be a cliché to describe such a film as “feel-good” or “inspiring,” that is exactly what Temple Grandin is. One cannot help but be mesmerized and energized by the story. . . .